[Governance] 170 orgs send an open letter to UN SG to stop plans for a new High Level Multistakeholder Body

parminder parminder at itforchange.net
Mon Mar 22 07:50:30 EDT 2021

On 22/03/21 2:15 am, Mueller, Milton L wrote:
> I’ve looked over the letter and am not impressed;
Milton, thanks for responding, even though you find the Digital
Cooperation initiative irrelevant. This is certainly much better than
what many here who are actively engaged with shaping and pushing this
initiative have bothered to do. I hope they also express their response
and views.

> not with the argument it presents nor with the astroturfed list of 170
> organizations.
So you find the active involvement and support of global organisations
that are, for instance, the primary global networks of grassroots
organisations in areas like health, education, food security, and
conservation;top global trade unions; top global organisations working
on gender justice, and global trade; some of the most prominent global
development NGOs; as astroturfing? The most prominent among these, if
not members of Just Net Coalition, are actually in active partnerships
with the JNC on Internet/ digital governance issues. And mind you, this
is the support we got over just 3 days which unfortunately included a
weekend -- owing to a deadline for submitting comments to the UN process.

You dismiss them as some irrelevant anti-globalisation organisations and
activists from two decades ago; losers, perhaps, who lap up any global
campaign letter thrown at them for getting their names printed on it!

I reckon then that real people's perspectives and representation in
Internet/digital governance matters should come from from a certain
professorial chair at Syracuse University in the US, or it is that you
have now shifted to somewhere in Georgia.

A group of around 20 prominent global organisations and networks, having
prepared this letter, are currently collaborating over an e-list for
follow-ups, including establishing contacts with people inside the UN,
government delegates etc, apart from spreading the message wider among
CS groups and engaging them.. And this is outside the Just Net
Coalition, JNC being just a participant in this collaboration. 

This should puncture the pompous arrogance with which you typically come
to such matters, and we can move now to more substantive matters. See

> We at IGP have largely, and deliberately, ignored the UN’s initiatives
> around so-called High Level
> Digital Cooperation. Not because we think it is leading in a bad
> direction or is part of an evil capitalist plot, nor do we think the
> people promoting it are badly motivated. We just think it is mostly
> irrelevant. It is founded on model of governance that is unrealistic
> and unlikely to have any impact on the internet (or platforms, which
> is not the same as the internet).
> The Internet consists of 70,000 autonomous systems using a common
> layer 3 and 4 protocol to communicate. Key elements of the internet
> infrastructure are governed by what we call the Organically Developed
> Internet institutions, such as IETF (standards), ICANN (domain names)
> the Regional Internet Registries (IP addressing) and cooperative
> action among network operators (routing, interconnection).
> Because the internet has created a globalized space for communication,
> many new problems and new forms of governance are evolving at the
> transnational layer that go well beyond critical internet resources.
> They affect issues areas such as cybersecurity, content moderation,
> and privacy.
So, you have defined Internet/ digital governance to be the technical
governance of the Internet plus largely these three areas involving a
digital version of libertarian minimal state. You do not consider, for
instance, data, AI or platform regulation, especially the distributive
issues involved therein, as Internet/digital governance, right. You have
the right to your definitions of Internet/ digital governance, but it is
evident that the world overwhelming disagrees with you, including the
IGF (see its program).

> Some of these transnational initiatives are, in our opinion,
> praiseworthy; others are not. But it is both unlikely and undesirable
> for them to be consolidated or centralized in the hands of a single
> global body, whether it is called “multistakeholder” or
> “intergovernmental.” No such body is going to be able to have the
> power or the expertise or the widespread legitimacy and participation
> to address all these areas. Only a dialogue forum is possible at the
> IGF level.  
Two responses to this: One, lets consider the WHO; It really cannot be
considered as global health governance being 'consolidated or
centralized in the hands of a single global body' . But it still does
very useful norms and standards setting work, develops global legal
instruments, as required and possible, develops and coordinates
frameworks of responses and other programmatic action, does neutral
public interest global research and capacity development, and so on.
WHO's existence has been extremely useful, and has not impeded other
transnational initiatives This is true of UN global governance bodies in
all areas. Digital is more inherently global than any other sector. So,
why would a similar body for Internet/ digital governance not also be

Second: But if in any case you still remain absolutely opposed to a
cross-sectoral, apex, digital policy and governance body, and I have
been raising this same issue for at least 12-13 years now, why you never
oppose the OECD's Committee on Digital Economy Policy (CDEP)? In the
name of the body, 'Economy'  is there only for forms sake. This
committee shapes digital policy in all areas, from principles for tech
architecture, to platforms and content, to data and AI. Why do OECD
needs a transnational, single digital governance body, when you so
strongly oppose such a body at the global level. I have raised this
issue often, and at one time when you could not avoid responding, you
dismissed this body as a capacity building body, which is of course an
untruth. OECD committees do go as far as developing legal instruments

The latest initiative of the CDEP is on government access to data held
by the private sector
The likely outcomes could be a document of policy principles but it
could even be a legal instrument. Since digital policy making is a
cross-sectoral work, CDEP often works in collaboration with other OECD
Committees towards different ends. For instance, it worked with the
Committee on Health to develop Health Data Principles
<https://one.oecd.org/document/COM/DELSA/DSTI(2016)1/en/pdf>. A very
appropriate kind of output, and done in the right way too. Similarly a
UN body on digital governance -- while all countries and not just the
richest ones are represented  -- should work with the WHO to develop
global Health Data Principles. In default of an UN Internet/ digital
governance body, OECD's norms, principles and policies become the
default global one.

But here you develop cold feet... OECD committees should keep
functioning and rolling out global governance norms, principles and
policies, but not any UN body. That is not needed, any such thing is
completely relevant. This is plainly a colonial attitude. It is a pity
that in the global Internet/ digital governance space one can openly do
such a thing. It normally does not happen elsewhere, in global civil
society spaces.

You are from the US, why dont you advocate to the OECD, where your gov
sits,  to cede its one-point cross-sectoral digital norms/ policy work,
and abolish the body specifically made for this purpose? What right do
you have to tell the rest of the world to not do it? I repeat, it is
plain and simple colonialism.

> Worse, increasingly, national governments are trying to interfere with
> or control usage of the internet at the application layer. This is
> leading to an increasingly fragmented, costly, and repressive
> environment. One could call this tech nationalism, jurisdictional
> alignment, fragmentation or a digital neo-mercantilism. IGP has
> published numerous critiques of these pathologies.
> In this context, for JustNet and its partners to portray “regulation
> of big tech” as the salvation of the internet, and the UN’s attempt to
> create a High Level MS Body as an entity with “overweening power” that
> “would help Big Tech resist effective regulation” is just laughable.
First, the term 'overweening power' is used for Big Tech, and not the
proposed High Level MS body. And if you do not think that Big Tech today
has overweening power, which needs to be urgently regulated, it is you
who is entirely out of touch with global intellectual, political, as
well as public opinion. You are sitting lonesomely in some untenable
libertarian ivory tower. But one thing I must commend you for is
consistency. You responded to one of my emails years back in this very
same space saying that you think 'social justice' is a meaningless term.
So while consistent you might be, you are completely out of touch with
contemporary digital reality. Internet, and those who were associated
with it, were seen 20 years ago as representing counter power; today the
Internet is controlled by those who represent the most pernicious
incumbent power. Counters have now to be developed to this entrenched
and fast expanding power. If 'your' internet governance is not taking
note of this -- what is happening just outside your window -- it is you
who is stuck in some 20 year old realities, not the organisations that
developed and supported this campaign letter. 

> I do not see how anyone with any deep knowledge of IG can take it
> seriously. It has very little relevance to contemporary problems of IG.
Your IG knowledge has perhaps gone too deep - so deep that you may be
alone wallowing there in the deep, in a manner very irrelevant to
contemporary problems of IG. Although, your no doubt incisive and well
written analyses -- however besides the point mostly -- do often provide
very good cover to contemporary 'bad' digital forces. And therefore they
get lapped up. Like this current email of yours is doing great favours
to the shapers and supporters of the Digital Cooperation High Level MS
Body, who themselves have little to be able to present their case in a
democratic-discursive way, in spaces like this public elist.

> Insofar as it has any substance, it seems to call for more
> nation-state based regulation of internet operations and content.  But
> this is something that, from Trump’s Great Firewall of America, to
> Russia’s “sovereign” Internet, to Europe’s NIS2, to India’s app
> blocking and censorship, to China’s insulated internet, we already
> have plenty of. And we are getting more and it seems to be making
> things worse.
There has to be a limit to the Libertarians' clever technique to
continue quoting the undoubted statist excesses vis a vis the digital to
keep at bay appropriate regulation of Big Tech, and also the needed
national policies to escape the coming bi-polar US-China's complete
digital and AI domination of the word. State's undue power has to be
resisted at the same time as a rule of law has to be established and
applied for governing non-state bad actors.

> By the way, has anyone at JustNet noticed that Facebook is joining
> them in their call for more internet regulation at the national level?
> Think about the implications of that for a moment:
> https://about.fb.com/regulations/
> If you read the letter, you can see that they obtained the support of
> all these organization – very few of whom actually focus on Internet
> or ICT governance
For you Internet governance is about core technical systems of the
Internet/ digital. For everyone else, its scope and meaning is fast
expanding outwards, getting closer to the points and manners of the
real-life impacts of the digital. There are of course organisations in
this list of 170 plus organisations that deal centrally with digital
governance, but then many others that are looking at platform/data/AI
governance in relation to food and agriculture, health, education,
trade, gender relations, labour, and so on. There is one that is a chief
port-of-call for developing country governments on e-commerce issues in
trade deals (btw, much of IG today is done in and through trade deals),
another is represented in a new data working group of the World
Committee on Food security of FAO, a third is developing health data
principles, another working on feminist digital justice, another on how
platforms use data to control dependent businesses, .... I can keep
going, but you get the point.

Should they all come to Prof Milton Mueller to get what Internet/
digital governance is!? It is perhaps time you go to them, if you have
to keep 'your' IG relevant.

> – by equating the UN HLDC with the World Economic Forum. This is
> factually wrong, but it does succeed at throwing red meat in front of
> the anti-globalization activists from two decades ago.
No one equated UN HLDC with the WEF. It is was another WEF we wont have
such a problem. What we have shown is that UN HLDC represent the exact
unfolding of a plan for global governance that WEF laid out 10 years
back through its Global Redesign Imitative. And we provide exact
quotations. Dont you see the difference? 

I have already described what these organisations are. You make fun of
them at your own cost.

> Internet governance needs to be accomplished from the bottom up, and
> rely heavily on networked, non-hierarchical forms of governance.

But not when  OECD does it ... They are rich people and nations, mostly
of the western civilisation, they know what they are doing, they have
superior rights over the world! Please stop this colonial narrative.  

> We need to protect and strengthen, not destroy or undermine, the
> organically developed internet institutions. When state-based,
> hierarchical interventions are necessary, they need to be carefully
> circumscribed and focused to address real problems that cannot be
> handled in any other way, such as crime, fraud, and coercion.
Your libertarian definition of the scope of Internet/ digital
governance! Sorry, developing countries at least cannot agree. For us
economic issues, regulating Big Tech, developing domestic digital
industry, etc are all very important.

> The UN should stop trying to become a centerpoint of global internet
> governance and continue to serve as a place for dialogue and network
> building.
Go first tell this to your country and the OECD...

Meanwhile, further discussion is very welcome.

Regards, parminder

> Dr. Milton L Mueller
> Georgia Institute of Technology
> School of Public Policy
> IGP_logo_gold block
> *From:*Governance <governance-bounces at lists.igcaucus.org> *On Behalf
> Of *parminder via Governance
> *Sent:* Saturday, March 13, 2021 12:30 AM
> *To:* governance at lists.igcaucus.org
> *Subject:* [Governance] 170 orgs send an open letter to UN SG to stop
> plans for a new High Level Multistakeholder Body
> The open letter was sent to the official consultation process, signed
> by more than 170 organisations.
> It was titled "“More than 170 Civil Society Groups Worldwide Oppose
> Plans for a Big Tech Dominated Body for Global Digital Governance” .
> Please see the final statement and endorsements at
> https://justnetcoalition.org/big-tech-governing-big-tech.pdf
> <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923889975%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=LINRHD5T4MZBhJN75Fvb%2BJ04O4zUY1ErnSUWmDtofb8%3D&reserved=0>>  
> It was also translated into Spanish, French, German and Dutch. All
> versions are linked from the enclosed document
> We had just 3 days to get sign ons, out of which 2 were weekend days.
> In the circumstances, the number is quite good. It shows the
> groundswell to opposition to this move. Thanks to everyone who
> supported this.
> We will now get this letter also sent directly to the UN SG and his
> new Tech Envoy.
> We will like to keep this campaign open for some time to get
> additional support and build awareness ...
> This ongoing campaign is just a start, much more needs to be done and
> will be done to stop this assault on democracy and on possibilities of
> effective regulation of Big Tech. We will be doing all it takes,
> including engaging with governments.
> We will follow a twin track: develop a powerful movement within civil
> society groups, and engage with governments and the UN.
> Will keep you posted.
> Best regards
> parminder
> On 05/03/21 2:15 pm, parminder via Governance wrote:
>     Dear All
>     This is anopen letter to the UN Secretary General
>     <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923899975%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=8fVH%2BEPgBnX09zXtQUFKFKI3BwIWjbxbqDqb3cSbIzI%3D&reserved=0>
>     initiated by 16 global and national level civil society networks
>     and organisations urging him to shelve plans for a High Level
>     Multistakeholder Body which, if set up, can be expected to become
>     the default apex global digital governance and policy body. This
>     body is proposed to have a private funding model, with strong
>     hints also at a 'pay to play' model. It is but obvious that Big
>     Tech will come to dominate any such body.
>     Quoting from the letter:
>         /Not only in developing countries but also in the US and EU,
>         calls for stronger regulation of Big Tech are rising. At the
>         precise point when we should be shaping global norms to
>         regulate Big Tech, plans have emerged for an ‘empowered’
>         global digital governance body that will evidently be
>         dominated by Big Tech. Adding vastly to its already
>         overweening power, this new Body would help Big Tech resist
>         effective regulation, globally and at national levels. Indeed,
>         we face the unbelievable prospect of ‘*a Big Tech led body for
>         Global Governance of Big Tech’*./
>      Two technical annexes to the open letter explain the background
>     of the matter in considerable detail.
>     *This letter is open for endorsements, *which can be done by
>     writing an email to _secretariat at justnetcoalition.org
>     <mailto:secretariat at justnetcoalition.org>_or filling _this form
>     <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech-form&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923899975%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=NcSzxaUwS1s%2BHKfhkXlpStaqFwNiOKO283dmauSu7eA%3D&reserved=0>_before
>     midnight PST (GMT-8) of the 7^th of March.
>     Please also do circulate to other groups and networks where it may
>     attract interest.
>     The open letter may also be accessed at
>     https://justnetcoalition.org/big-tech-governing-big-tech.pdf
>     <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923909974%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=sSgqsid1nkclqh%2Bg4AgHrX0Mx1%2BdqWbsa%2FKWavGwp50%3D&reserved=0>
>     French text is at :
>     https://justnetcoalition.org/big-tech-governing-big-tech-french.pdf
>     <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech-french.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923909974%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=JOSC%2FHFG4omaj9tdxgm5%2FJ%2FF7Ft5jg0gNv%2FCL%2BiG970%3D&reserved=0>
>     and Spanish version at -
>     https://justnetcoalition.org/big-tech-governing-big-tech-spanish.pdf
>     <https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjustnetcoalition.org%2Fbig-tech-governing-big-tech-spanish.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cmilton%40gatech.edu%7Cb4c8944001194bc7858208d8e5e11d64%7C482198bbae7b4b258b7a6d7f32faa083%7C0%7C0%7C637512102923919962%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=fADhoRYAeqkzZwCekvnWnl7hdc06MwbqMDnIaik%2BxWM%3D&reserved=0>
>     Please let us know if you have any questions or comments regarding
>     the above.
>     Best, parminder
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